Director: John Crowley
“Aw, it’s so sweet! What a classic little romance!” Look here: in the first 10 minutes of John Crowley’s BROOKLYN, a seasick Saoirse Ronan is locked out of a bathroom on a boat to America, runs into the hallway, violently defecates into a mop bucket, and, when she runs back to the still-locked bathroom, proceeds to vomit into the shit bucket. It may be the most out of this world “What movie am I watching?” moment in 2015 cinema. And that’s the issue: this moment, which may as well have been pulled from a Farrelly Bros. flick, is really the “grittiest” that the film gets.
Its squeaky clean depiction of the immigrant experience is not only disingenuous, but also slightly dull. Somehow, not much happens to Ronan’s character, Eilis, an honest, naive, young woman traveling across continents by herself in 1952. A settled-in life and cultural understanding of American identity is served to her on a silver platter, her most pressing challenges being how to properly eat spaghetti or how to look sexy in a bathing suit. BROOKLYN’S stakes are kept shockingly low, as if the picture is afraid to soil Ronan in any way. It’s boring enough that she’s a mint condition Irish Immigrant Barbie doll, but screenwriter Nick Hornby, adapting from a novel by Colm Toibin, keeps her in a glass case as well. Which is a shame! Having outgrown her status as a child actor, Ronan has aged into a charming leading woman. She lacks command, but her presence in and of itself warms the heart.
The most pristine story of struggle you’ve ever seen
Ronan is at her best with co-star and love interest Emory Cohen. Again, their romance kindles in a matter of minutes, the development of which is glossed over in favor of getting right to the ooey-gooey, but the advantage is that these two are absolute magic together. The quickness by which their love sparks is also the marker for when BROOKLYN becomes so much more than what feels like a YA novel adaptation. Their rapport is earnest and passionate; back-and-forth teasing, wordy and nerve-wracking confessions about themselves, the irresistible urge to smile in each other’s presence. The plain-faced authenticity is simultaneously sexy and refreshingly sensible. Their very PG-13 sex scene is lovely, alluring, and thrilling; the concept of these two together is enough to ignite the fire in one’s loins, so to witness their physical embrace is a near overwhelming sensation. Crowley’s formidable and serviceable filmmaking simply trembles in the wake of their electric romance.
In the third act, a life-changing choice is posed as to which man Eilis will choose to be romantically involved with and the non-Cohen option is so embarrassingly underdeveloped that the decision is obvious. Her life is being determined by the pen, not the film’s world, and it feels awfully lousy. Which is too bad, because until that point BROOKLYN finds itself on a truly delightful hot streak. Ripe with disinfected social drama and stock photo perfection, but also boasting some of the truest character interactions and romance between two actors in the last decade or so, BROOKLYN is the best film Nick Cassavetes never made. Like the city itself, BROOKLYN’s virtues outshine its many vices.